2007 World of Outlaws Season Review: Sam Hafertepe Jr. Sam Hafertepe Jr. entered the 2007 World of Outlaws season with just four starts in a 410-car in his career. He didn't let that lack of experience slow him down though, as he finished...
2007 World of Outlaws Season Review: Sam Hafertepe Jr.
Sam Hafertepe Jr. entered the 2007 World of Outlaws season with just four starts in a 410-car in his career. He didn't let that lack of experience slow him down though, as he finished fifth on just the second night of the season during the Florida DIRTcar Nationals at Volusia Speedway Park, with a field over 50 of the strongest cars in the country in attendance.
The rookie won the third heat race on that night back in February, to earn a spot in the Crane Cams Dash, which he also won, to claim the pole position in the 25-lap A-Feature. He ran in the Top-Five the entire race, battling with two-time defending World of Outlaws champion Donny Schatz, as well as former series titlist Danny Lasoski, veteran Craig Dollansky and fellow rookie Kerry Madsen. It was Hafertepe's first career Top-Five finish with the World of Outlaws in just his sixth start in a 410-sprint car.
"It boosted our confidence and let us know that we were capable of running with these guys," he noted of his strong run on the second night of the season. "We proved time and time again that we will be there at the end of the night."
With nearly 30 cars beginning the season full-time with the World of Outlaws in 2007, Hafertepe had to race as hard as he could every time he hit the track. At season's end, he was second in the Kevin Gobrecht Rookie of the Year Award standings and had earned three Top-10 finishes. He also won the B-Main five times over the course of the season to race his way into the A-Feature. He completed the season a very respectable 19th overall in the championship standings.
"I believe it was even more competitive than I thought it would be," said Hafertepe, driver of the G.H. Plumbing J&J, when looking back at the 2007 season. "We turned our program around from the middle of the year on out. Looking back on the year, I think we did pretty good."
After claiming the American Sprint Car Series (ASCS) Sooner Region title in 2006 in a 360-sprint car, Hafertepe knew it would be no easy task competing full-time with the World of Outlaws, especially with his limited experience in a 410-sprint car. Throughout the season, he earned 10 Top-10 starting spot in main events, by racing his way into the Crane Cams Dash, and also had several Top-10 qualifying runs in time trials.
"It was a real big adjustment at the beginning of the year," explained the native of Sunnyvale Texas. "That is probably why we started to turn it around in the middle of the year, because we had more time and laps under our belts. Toward the end of the year we got more comfortable each night."
Hafertepe visited countless tracks for the first time this season from coast-to-coast, including his first trip to the East Coast, as well as competing in California and also two separate jaunts up to Canada. He also had the opportunity to compete once in his home state of Texas, as the World of Outlaws returned to Houston Raceway Park.
"Some of the tracks you go to, you miss it the first time you are there," he said. "Then when you go back for the second time you have a good idea of what you need to do."
Hafertepe welcomed three-time World of Outlaws champion Sammy Swindell to his team during the summer to help guide them as they continued their rookie campaign. A string of strong qualifying runs would follow and the first-year driver gained more confidence at some of the most demanding tracks on the schedule, including Eldora Speedway, Lernerville Speedway and Williams Grove Speedway.
"That was one of the biggest helps that we had all year," said the always optimistic driver of having Swindell helping turn the wrenches on his car. "He helped get us pointed in the right direction and we had a good baseline every night. It gave us something to look forward to every night."
One of the highlights of the season for the first-year driver was when he led the first laps of his World of Outlaws career at Ohsweken Speedway in Canada in July. In his first trip north of the border he lined up second in the A-Feature next to Donny Schatz and quickly jumped to the lead on the opening circuit, pacing the first 13 laps of the 30-lap contest. He also won the second heat race that night to earn a spot in the Cane Cams Dash, where he finished second.
"I knew we were capable of doing it and we just had to do it," stated Hafertepe of leading laps with the World of Outlaws. "I look back on that race and there are probably some things I should have done differently. Maybe next year we will be smart enough to do those things differently."
Lining up every night again drivers that have been racing sprint cars longer than he has been alive, helped the young driver to build confidence and continue to learn the intricacies of racing full-time with the best sprint car drivers in the world. Another of the highlights of his season came at Lernerville Speedway in the Commonwealth Clash in May. In his first visit to the always racy 0.4-mile track, Hafertepe lined up on the front row of the A-Feature with 20-time World of Outlaws champion Steve Kinser.
"You look at guys like Steve Kinser and you just think about how long he has been as good as he is, and sometimes that does intimidate you a little bit," said the rookie driver. "It also helps build your confidence as well."
After finishing the season on November 5 with the World of Outlaws annual Night of Champions, Hafertepe returned to his home state of Texas, where he competed in the November Sprint Shootout at Cowtown Speedway in a 360-sprint car last weekend. He finished second in the 35-lap A-Feature, and followed that up with a win in the special "Short Track Showdown," a dash for cash that pit four cars against each other for six laps. After winning the race, which earned him $1,000, it brought his weekend winnings to $5,000.
With racing now complete for the year, Hafertepe and his team have returned to their shop in the Lone Star State, where they will spend the next 10 weeks preparing for the 2008 season. He will use all of the priceless experience and knowledge he gained in 2007 to ready himself and his team for another season with the World of Outlaws.
"We'll be back in the shop getting ready for next year," he said. "There's not a whole lot of time for rest."